Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Will A Republican Wave Wash Over State Legislatures and Your State Government Relations Program?

September 10, 2010

By Steve Arthur, Vice President

While much of the national press has been debating whether or not Republicans will take control of the U.S. House and possibly the Senate, much less press attention has been paid to the potential for a wave at the state legislative level. Part of the reason is likely that there is simply less polling data available on individual races, so it is harder to make specific predictions. But rest assured, the national parties are very interested in these races because they will impact control of the U.S. House for the next decade because of reapportionment and redistricting.

Both the RSLC and the DLCC have created special websites focused on electing state legislators in states that will have a big impact on redistricting ( and While the press doesn’t focus on the issue, it is one of the key issues for political insiders.

These campaign organizations have targeted states that appear to have the greatest likelihood of switching and then they focus their efforts on districts within those states that appear to be swing districts. But could those efforts just be carried along with the national tide? Professor Alan Abramowitz of Emory University published an article on Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball in July which showed that state legislative races tend to follow closely the generic ballot trends for congressional races. In that article ( he argues that those races and control of legislative chambers can usually be predicted by the “early September” Gallup generic ballot poll.

Well it’s early September, so what do we know? This week Gallup showed the generic ballot to be tied between Democrats and Republicans. However, just last week, Republicans were shown to be up by ten points. Which number is the more accurate? Or do we take the average of the two plus next week’s poll? We will know for sure in less than 60 days.

Even if this week’s “even” poll is the most accurate, Democrats will have a hard time being heartened by it. Professor Abramowitz’ predictions show Republicans with a gain of over 300 seats and nine chambers under the “even” scenario. With a Republican six point advantage, his analysis shows a pick-up of 500 seats and 13 chambers. When he wrote the July column, he didn’t even include predictions for a generic ballot advantage for Republicans of more than six points, so if the Republican number rebounds to the high single digits, it could be a very long night in November for Democrats.

So what does this mean for state government relations professionals? Nine to thirteen new chambers means new Senate Presidents or Speakers and many new committee chairs. With so many seats changing hands, it is also likely that some key legislators in state houses that don’t switch hands will still lose their seats (or they already have in a primary). In states where one party has been in control for years, have you cultivated or ignored relationships with the minority party? If they take control, will fence-mending be necessary?

Combined with term limits in other states, it means you have your work cut out for you in rebuilding your relationship network. So, request an increase in your travel budget now for next year so you can make some additional visits to your key states and attend more Groups meetings to quickly develop those relationships for 2011.


August 4, 2010

By Steve Arthur, Vice President

This year’s gubernatorial elections have seen several candidates spending millions upon millions of their own money in order to get a job that pays less than $200,000. Of course, it isn’t about the money, but the ability to affect policy that is driving them to seek the office. (I’ll let the psychologists debate how much simple ego is also involved.) The conventional wisdom is that money can influence elections, but do those who self-fund with large amounts of money always win their races?

If you are running in a California primary and are willing to spend $30 million, the answer is no. Although not because self-funders don’t win. Steve Poizner found out that even if one spends $30 million in a primary, that candidate can still be trounced by another who spends $70 million. Meg Whitman has already set new records for self-funding a state political campaign and she still has three months until the general election.

Last night’s Republican gubernatorial primary in Michigan did result in another self-funder wining a nomination. Rick Snyder spent several million dollars in a multi-candidate to field to win one third of the vote. His two closest competitors each garnered about 25% each.

The final big self-funder of the year is Rick Scott who is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Florida against Attorney General Bill McCollum. Their primary is August 24th and Scott is leading comfortably in most recent polls.

With their primary wins (or lead in Florida), what are their prospects for November? If history is any guide, Republicans may be disappointed. The National Institute on Money in State Politics put out a report in June entitled “The Efficacy of Self-Funding a Political Campaign” (, and it should give pause to those who think money can buy an election. The study looked at the Top 10 self-funders from 2000 through 2009. Eight of the ten races were for Governor and only Jon Corzine was successful in his first run in 2005. His unsuccessful 2009 re-election race joined six other failed gubernatorial bids in the Top 10. Down ticket races may be a better place for self-funders, since the other two Top 10 self-funders won the seats they were seeking. David Dewhurst was elected Lt. Governor in Texas in 2002 and Steve Poizner had much better luck in his 2006 run for California Insurance Commissioner.

Others who were unsuccessful in their gubernatorial runs included B. Thomas Galisano (I-NY) who spent $74 million of his own money in 2002, Tony Sanchez (D-TX) who spent $60 million in 2002, Steve Wesley (D-CA) who lost the primary after spending $35 million in 2006, and Dick DeVos (R-MI) who spent $35 million trying to knock off Governor Granholm in 2006. Doug Forrester (R-NJ) in 2005 and Kerry Healey (R-MA) in 2006 were the other two in the Top 10.

There must be something about California primaries and $30 million. While not included in the study because it was before 2000, former airline executive Al Checchi spent $35 million in his unsuccessful effort to be the Democratic nominee for Governor in 1998 to join Wesley and Poizner in the $30 million-plus loser club. The other big spenders all made it to the general election.

Of course, the outcome of any race is going to be based on the individual candidates, but the fact that seven of the eight top self-funded races were lost by the self funder should be a reminder that money alone can’t win a race. The skills that often help individuals amass a personal fortune are often not the same skills that can help win an election, no matter how much money a candidate can spend. This is especially true at the top of ticket.

While down ballot races can often be won or lost with campaign strategy, commercials and get out the vote activities, voters expect the person they are electing to lead their state to be in the public and answer the tough questions about how they would govern. Long campaign days and repeated questions from reporters can sometimes bring out personality traits previously hidden, and opposition research can dig up information that can put the self funder in a negative light. And, no surprise, the most negative information seems to come out close to the election when there is little time left to respond.

Because these self funders are usually first time candidates for office, they have to be careful that the image they create about themselves is close to the real thing. When it isn’t, the disconnect can be very jarring for voters, who will then write off the self-funder. With no previous vetting of negative information and no public record on which to fall back, the façade of the “savior” candidate is impossible to recreate if that persona is tarnished. The question isn’t whether or not we will see negative information, the only question is what sort of dirt are we going to see about Whitman, Snyder and Scott?

We will have to wait for the election results to see whether this year’s self funders will follow the historical pattern of recent years or join Governor Corzine as an outlier. Both Ms. Whitman and Mr. Scott have already spent enough to make the Top 10 list. Mr. Snyder may turn to more traditional fundraising for his general election, and he may not make the Top 10 list, which could make him just another candidate that supplemented his campaign with personal funds. There are plenty of those candidates, and if history is any guide, that is the path Mr. Snyder should follow for victory.


June 23, 2010

By Steve Arthur, Vice President

In addition to settling on their respective party candidates for the general election, California voters also decided to make the June 8 primary the last in which party candidates will be chosen in a primary. Voters passed Proposition 14, which will put all primary candidates on one ballot and the top two vote getters will advance to the general election regardless of party.

While proponents have argued that this change will help elect more moderate officials by forcing candidates to advocate middle of the road positions to advance beyond the primary, some political analysts think the impact will be much less ( We may just have to wait until the 2012 elections to find out which view is correct

However, what may have to change are some corporation and trade association political giving strategies. A common strategy now is to wait until after the primaries to engage in the political process. In addition to conserving limited contribution dollars, this policy avoids having to take sides in a primary campaign when the candidates may have very similar views on issues important to that business or trade association.

The open primary is likely to force a change to that strategy. Under an open primary, candidates will need to treat that election as the general election if there are multiple candidates. In addition, even if there are only two credible candidates, they will be pushing to collect early campaign contributions to help run a campaign that will increase their margin of victory in the primary. By doing this, they will portray themselves as the overwhelming favorite in November, which becomes reality if their opponents’ potential donors see the race that way and decline to give.

If the Proposition 14 proponents’ hopes come true, the business community and labor might both start supporting moderate candidates in races that wouldn’t be competitive under the current system. Under the new system, business groups might see an opportunity to support a moderate Democrat that wouldn’t have a chance in a liberal Democratic primary, but might be able to win a general election. At the same time, labor might see an opportunity to knock off a staunchly anti-labor legislator that would cruise to re-election in a Republican district. This means that both of those seats need to be considered for campaign help when one was a lost cause and the other a shoe-in. If you are involved in budgeting for political contributions, you better keep this in mind for your 2011 and 2012 budgets.

To further complicate matters, both parties have indicated they are likely to make endorsements before the primary at conventions or some other process. This means once an endorsement has been made, you may be getting phone calls from party leadership encouraging you to only give to their preferred candidate. Therefore, Proposition 14 is likely to increase political contributions and political headaches.

UPDATE: An update on my post of the California Insurance Commissioner race earlier this month. As counties continue to count absentee and provisional ballots, Mike Villines has now pulled ahead of Brian FitzGerald by less than 7000 votes out of 1.8 million votes counted. The race is still too close to call, so there is hope after all for those who might be identified as “establishment” politicians.


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